Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Relaunch Issue of Montana Woman Magazine

From The Editor

Montana Woman Magazine first arrived on the scene in September 1994. The first issue was as single sheet of paper—actually more of a newsletter; the magazine part would come later. The new publication was well received by the community and soon enjoyed the success of becoming a 12-page black and white magazine. Montana Woman first entered my life in September 2001 in a big way: I became the Publisher and Editor. What a blessing to be at the helm of a magazine that celebrates its 206th issue this month and has been the only monthly publication in the state of Montana for the entire 17 years of its existence.

During my time with the magazine, I have seen abundant growth and have had the pleasure to meet inspiring people throughout Montana. Over the years this always-evolving publication has increased in readership and circulation. During this time color has been added as well as an increase in the number of pages. What started as a contributing family of ten has now grown to over forty. Talented writers from across the state of Montana share knowledge, laughs and life’s experiences with us each month.

Change has been a big part of the history of Montana Woman. A friend of mine sports a bumper sticker on her car that states simply, “Change is inevitable – Growth is optional.” Montana Woman Magazine and its staff embrace change and encourage growth. For me, my time with the magazine is not a job, but a way of life. Having been born and raised in Montana, I feel fortunate to be a Montana Woman. I like to think that no matter your geographic location or place of origin, there is a little Montana Woman in all women.

January begins another chapter for Montana Woman Magazine. Not only are we re-launching the magazine with a new look, but we have also grown into a 96-page full-color publication. Rest assured: the look has changed, but the content will remain the same; this is what has made Montana Woman a success. We are dedicated to being a positive resource for communities across Montana, always mindful to insure that articles educate, uplift and entertain the reader. Montana Woman focuses on the people and events that are positive forces in helping shape the communities big and small across our beautiful Big Sky Country.

We are excited to share more news! In 2010, Montana Woman Magazine became available online and has been embraced by readers worldwide! This had made it obvious that it is time for the magazine to have a digital version. You read correctly! Montana Woman will be the first Montana magazine available digitally. Visit iTunes to download your app today! Each month readers can get their Montana Woman Magazine fix on their iPad. The new tablet edition gives readers access to all they’ve come to love about the print edition plus exclusive bonus content and interactive extras that aren’t available anywhere else.

We have many more surprises in store for our readers and our advertisers in 2012! Sharing them now would spoil the fun—so pick up your issue each month to see what is new. We appreciate you allowing us to be part of your life and your community.

Montana Woman Magazine is delighted to continue “Pioneering into the Future”. Thanks to our devoted readers, faithful advertisers, talented contributors, and dedicated staff, I am happy to report... The Future Is Looking Good!

Happy New Year,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Barbi Webber's story now available at www.montanawoman.com.

Check it out!

Thursday, October 6, 2011




LIFE IS SWEET WITH NO WHEAT!

by Cindy Branch

Jennelle Cassidy, born and raised in Whitefish, is a sixth generation resident of the Flathead Valley. When Jennelle was 15 years old, Dorne Michels passed away; he was her father, her best friend… and her strength. Jennelle says that her mother, Jeanne Newbury, had the heart and courage of a lion to raise five children on her own. Jeanne’s love has been constant in Jennelle’s life and has strengthened their relationship beyond the typical one of mother/daughter—they are dear friends as well. Dorne and Jeanne also instilled in their daughter the importance of working hard assuring her the rewards would be great. Jennelle says her strong faith came from a long line of impeccable Montana women—great-grandmothers, grandmothers, great aunts, mothers, and friends.

“My earliest memory of work was at the age of nine when I babysat for a neighbor every day after school. Throughout high school I worked at Haines Drug alongside my grandmother, Carol Newbury. Then I landed one of my favorite jobs—front desk receptionist at the Pine Lodge. I loved working with people and soon realized that it was my niche. After a couple of years there, I went to work at the reservation center for Big Mountain. This was all in preparation for a job I really loved, Group Tour Coordinator and Reservation Manager for Glacier Park, Inc. I stayed with that job until my husband, Scott, and I started Precision Painting. That was ten years ago. Always wanting to continue my growth and keep myself challenged, I started Brought to Life Beads four years ago. It is located in Whitefish at the Mountain Mall and has allowed me to pursue my dream: being creative, working with people, and teaching something I love.”

Jennelle now happily calls Columbia Falls home with husband Scott and their three children. When asked about the children, Jennelle proudly shared, “Our oldest, Lexi, is a beautiful and vibrant 16 year old. Our son, Dausson, is a towering teddy bear at just 12 years of age. Our youngest son, Houston, is the comedy and light in our family and is 11 years old.”

It was Houston who gave his parents a real scare, one that led them on a journey that resulted in starting their new business, Sweet NO Wheat. “This journey has not been an easy one. It began when Houston was 8 and became very sick. He could barely get out of bed and could not focus at school. Schoolwork and lack of energy became a daily struggle for him. I would have to keep him out of school because of continuous stomachaches, headaches, vomiting and so on.

“After a year of being in and out of the hospital and clinics, and countless x-rays, ultra sounds and blood tests, we finally stumbled on an answer.” The answer came from a family friend, a nurse, who asked if any food allergy testing had been done. Willing to try anything to make their sick little boy well, Scott and Jennelle quickly set up an appointment for another blood draw for Houston. The answer came three days later—Houston had serious food allergies to wheat, gluten, eggs, dairy, garlic, peanuts and artificial sugar. In addition, Houston had colitis and celiac disease so badly he was bleeding internally. Jennelle and Scott, who would do anything for their children, began the search for baked items that Houston could enjoy and not feel deprived. Jennelle wanted her little boy to enjoy the things other children looked forward to. Can you imagine a child not being able to enjoy his own cake at his birthday party? Pizza parties, BBQs, the classroom treats and other typical events all kids enjoy were not a part of this young child’s life. It was hard for Houston to understand and perhaps even harder for his parents when they felt unable to help their child.

Jennelle told me, “I read everything I could about celiac disease and gluten intolerance. And I began to bake. I really had not enjoyed baking because it was too structured for me. I love to cook, adding a dash of this and a pinch of that. But I’m not a recipe kind of girl; I do best when working and thinking outside the box. Well, I quickly found out you have to go by a recipe, using it as a base, when it comes to gluten, dairy and egg-free baking. It is more than just one challenge... it is three all wrapped into one. You take the base then you make it your own. When Houston would struggle with staying within the limits of this lifestyle, I would get back to the books and see what more I could do for him. I started to master cookies, little desserts and simple treats, but I struggled with bread.”

The Cassidy’s realized there was not going to be a magic pill to cure their son. Their main focus became making items that would appeal to his taste buds. Jennelle said, “This was one of the greatest challenges of my life. After the first year, I found that I was eating less gluten as well and was feeling a significant difference in my own health. Houston’s doctor had told us the allergies are hereditary and he felt certain it had come from me. A round of blood tests revealed just that: I, too, have celiac disease and have had it for many years. I had been suffering from migraines that were so debilitating that I could hardly get out of the bed in the morning and my energy level was so low that every task seemed to be a challenge. I was so focused on taking care of the children that I didn’t pay attention to my own poor health. So, all the work I was putting in to make our son feeling normal was proving to be a blessing to my body as well. This was an answer to a prayer! I finally knew what had been ailing me for most of my life, all because I would not give up on healing my son from the inside out.”

Night after night, Jennelle would bake trying to achieve a great tasting loaf of bread that was not dry or hard as a brick. After many, many attempts, she achieved the perfect loaf and proudly shared the news with her dear friend Louise Gulick, owner of Louizanne’s Catering in Whitefish. Jennelle also started talking to other people and discovered there was a huge need for gluten, dairy and egg-free baked items and treats. When Jennelle sought Louise’s advice about opening a bakery catering to those with food allergies, she responded, “I’ve tried it myself and it is much harder than I thought, and that was just gluten-free! Kid, you have a personal attachment to this and I know you can do it. If anyone can make it work, it is going to be you, Jen.” That was all the encouragement this devoted mother needed and she then boldly asked Louise if she could rent her kitchen. Since that moment she has not turned back. 10/10/10 was Jennelle’s first day in the commercial space slinging dough and Scott was by her side working with her on all the “experiments”. There were the not so good (mason bricks) and the aha! moments of Lemon Drops, Cinnamon Rolls, and Artisan Bread.

Houston has proved to be Jennelle’s most demanding critic. If he has a craving for something, she embraces the challenge. Since its beginning, Sweet NO Wheat has been selling out of items daily. People come into the new shop just to see if they are “for real”—that it is possible to bake items that are gluten, dairy, and egg-free. And if baking without these ingredients were not enough of a challenge, the family’s pastor, PD, presented Jennelle with yet another one. He suffers from a yeast allergy and asked if she could eliminate that ingredient as well. Jennelle took on the challenge and made fresh baked items beyond his expectations. This turned out to be yet another blessing as the demand for yeast-free products has proved to be just as important as gluten, egg, and dairy-free. Sweet NO Wheat offers loaf bread, hamburger buns, flatbread, focaccia, pizza crust, cinnamon raisin bagel bread, dipping sticks, all kinds of cookies, scones, brownies, pumpkin bars, lemon bars, rhubarb bars, muffins, cakes and so much more! The house specialty is the product that started it all—bread!

Prior to achieving that perfect loaf of bread, Jennelle had a heartbreaking conversation with her son. “Houston sat me down and poured his heart out to me about what he really misses, what he wants so badly, the tastes that he sneaks even if it is a great risk for him. ‘Mom, I want bread that will not fall apart!’ That night I had a dream and I truly believe God gave me the answer I had been seeking for nearly three years. I came back to the kitchen and did exactly what I was instructed to do in my dream. I cried at the sight of my first real, flexible, flavorful, spongy loaf of bread. I put my head in my hands and thanked God for it all—all the struggles to get me where I am. I went back through all the recipes and made the changes. To my great surprise it made my recipes interchangeable. I could hardly wait to get this beautiful bread to our son. I made sandwiches for the whole family just the way we like them—loaded! With Houston’s first bite he said, ‘Mom, why are you feeding me real bread?’ I began crying and immediately knew it was literally the bread of life—for our lives. Houston had sandwich bread, finally! He ate with the best and brightest smile, the smile that had been lost for a long time. It was then that I realized there are so many people in the same situation—longing for something as simple as great tasting bread. To feel normal, to be freed in a way”

I love the name of their growing business and was intrigued by the origin of the name. Jennelle explained, “My husband Scott and I are great ‘thinkers’ and even better when we go for drives. We went out on a drive and began brainstorming about a name for our business. One of the names that didn’t make it, but was fun to joke about was No Glue for You. The name we did decide on was Sweet NO Wheat. It is perfect because life can still be sweet without wheat. We asked the kids for their opinion and the vote was unanimous.”

Jennelle and her family have turned this life altering challenge into a true blessing. I asked Jennelle what the future holds for Sweet NO Wheat. She giggled and replied, “We just opened a store in the Whitefish Mountain Mall along with Brought to Life Beads. We now have a cold case to carry your everyday needs. We are able to educate people who just don’t know what to do with their new diagnosis or those who have suffered for years but had nothing worth biting into. We have a huge demand for our specialty products and we need to get them out to people faster, and in more places. When the store had been open for only six weeks the word hit the newsstands and the store sold out of bread... 56 loaves, to be exact… in one day! There is such a demand that Scott and I find ourselves taking time away from our other day jobs to make this a full time investment. Right now, we bake from 4:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then go off to our day jobs. Some nights we have to go back in to the kitchen for the night just to keep up with the demand. Scott does the Farmers Market on Tuesdays in Whitefish and has a near sell-out each time. The most common responses we hear are: ‘Please do not go anywhere’; ‘Where can I get your products daily?’; ‘I am from out of town; how can I get it when I leave and will you ship?’; ‘What restaurants carry your products?’ and ‘How do I order?’ Currently, we have just the one store in Whitefish, but we have plans in the works that will allow us to meet the needs of the Valley.”

Sweet NO Wheat is in the planning stages of expanding into a manufacturing site in the Flathead Valley. “We want to serve our locals and also get to those outside of our valley who do not have access to the extensive options we offer. Being in the pizza joint on the corner or the local coffee shop is great, but we want to blanket the market and provide greater accessibility, creating more normalcy for people with allergies with our unique menu. We have literally grown overnight. We have people stopping in from all over the U.S. and a few from outside the States saying that they have heard about us and are excited to try our products. My email is overflowing daily with question or orders. Our Facebook page has created a lot of buzz, too.” Scott and Jennelle have been approached by a couple of major franchises that would like to offer their allergy-free products in their nationwide stores.

“Knowing that we are making a difference in so many lives is very rewarding! Some of the folks that have stopped in to check us out are almost desperate. Our pastor had not had a hamburger bun in many, many years. The gluten, dairy, egg and yeast-free bun I created for him turned out truly awesome. And I have so many other great customer stories. One is of a mother of three who was literally starving herself because her love of food ended with her diagnosis. She was overjoyed with our Cherry Almond Cookies. Another woman had multiple allergies that left her with very limited options. She could not get the wrapper off the Lemon Drops Bar fast enough; it was gone by the time I gave her change back. There was a little two-year-old girl who really touched my heart. Pizza is her favorite food, but she couldn’t have it because she has severe celiac disease. Her enthusiasm and happiness in the simple joy of now being able to have her favorite food brought me to tears. A little boy came into the store singing, ‘We are getting me bread today. We are getting me bread today!’ Most people are just astounded with what we have on the menu— and then they find out there is no egg, no dairy, as well as no gluten. Most items are also yeast-free and some items are low sugar as well. Sometimes we have people just gaze into the case not sure what they are going to get. I have not been hugged, kissed and thanked so abundantly in my entire life as I have been since the beginning of Sweet NO Wheat. ‘Options’ has not been a word in the vocabulary of so many for years. We are able to offer these people the gift of options.”

Sweet NO Wheat is definitely a family affair with Scott and Jennelle doing most of the baking; the three kids help bake, clean, and man the store. For this Montana family, life is absolutely “Sweet NO Wheat!”


Friday, June 10, 2011

A Note From The Editor - June 2011


During a ceremony in late May, I had the honor of being awarded the 2011 Soroptomist Ruby Award.  Judy Shaffer a member of the Kalispell Sorptomist stopped by my office earlier in the spring to share that she had nominated me and that I had been selected as the recipient.  Needless to say, I was very surprised and a bit overwhelmed.  During my acceptance speech preparation, I took the time to ponder the evolution of the Magazine and the Foundation.

 

Montana Woman Magazine has been in publication for sixteen years.  I am so proud of the growth that has blessed the Magazine.  June marks our 200th issue!  As publisher for the past ten years, I can tell you it has been a heck of an adventure!  I have met some of the most inspiring women – women making a difference in both big and small ways.   Montana Woman Magazine continues to grow and be a positive resource for women throughout Montana.  I KNOW how fortunate I am to have a job I love and to be surrounded by a circle of caring staff, talented contributors, supportive advertisers and loyal readers.  

 

 

Over the years, the Magazine has brought spectacular women into my life.  These women have become friends, mentors, and family and have helped form The Montana Woman Foundation.  The Foundation sponsors several fundraising events that make it possible to provide scholarships to deserving women, and also offer educational workshops on a variety of topics for the entire community.  These events provide a wonderful opportunity for networking and for promoting a circle of giving.  I feel extremely blessed to have a dedicated board of directors (past and present) that share a common goal to provide a resource that extends a hand of support, encouragement and nurturing to women striving to reach their goals, lead positive lives and be contributing members of their communities.   These women realize that they could not have achieved their goals without the mentoring and support of other strong women – they want to provide the same opportunities for others. 

 

 

I humbly accepted the award on behalf of many friends, family, associates, and community members who help me live my dream.  I know that I have not traveled this path alone.  It is by the grace of God and the love of a supportive man that I am able to continue my personal and professional growth.  I truly feel as though I have received so much more than I have given – or ever could give. 

 

With Sincere Gratitude,

 

Cindy Branch

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Montana Woman Foundation Annual Tea and Train














7th Annual Tea and Train

It’s time again for our annual spring day trip on a scenic train ride to

Essex, Montana and the historic Izaak Walton Inn, for tea, good food, friends, and fun.

Tickets are $65 for the train ride, the Tea, and return train ride

or $45 for the Tea with your own transportation to Essex.

All proceeds benefi t the Montana Woman Foundation Scholarship Program.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

departing from the Whitefi sh Train Depot at 7:00 am

• Mark your calendar to join us for these activities:

• A scenic train ride to Essex, Montana

• Continental Breakfast at the Izaak Walton Inn

• Guest Speaker, Bill McLaren

• Nature trail walk along the Starlight Trail

• Side trips to Walton Goat Lick and The Swinging Bridge

• Mary Wallace of UpperCase Living with a great creative project

• Lunch of sandwiches, desserts, fruits and petit fours, including

the Tea and Train traditional Strawberry Tuxedos

• Tea specialist and speaker, Carl Easton


For more information or to order tickets, please call the Montana Woman office at 406-755-5753

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Montana Woman Magazine News!


The February issue is available on our website at www.montanawoman.com.  Have you checked out our tweets on twitter or our posts on facebook?  If not, please do and send us feedback.  The March issue is on the stands tomorrow!  It is a rockin' issue. 
The April issue is coming together and promises to be educational, inspiring, and entertaining.  You will want to check out our new writers.  Montana is blessed with amazing people.  How lucky are we?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beautiful Montana Days.....

From the Editor

 

Life has a way of teaching lessons when you least expect it.  I would like to share one such instance that happened to me a couple of weeks ago.  I was running late, which, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence.  My mind was overflowing with plans for the day’s events.  I was busy trying to figure out how to organize my day’s agenda in a timely and efficient manner.  My morning was “free” to get caught up on my to-do list from the day before and prepare for the busy afternoon ahead of me.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to my over-scheduled day.  I was so focused on what was happening next that I didn’t take time for the “now”.  Looking back I realize that I was creating my own sense of urgency to get to work and get the day started... after all, I did not have fire, flood or blood waiting for me at the office.  I did have a long to-do list. 

     I was driving down Columbia Falls Stage intent on getting to work and starting my day.  What happened next was truly magical.  I topped a hill and was stopped in my tracks by a breathtaking sight.  The morning was bitterly cold—the kind of morning that you can see your breath.  The sun was shining on the fresh fallen snow causing the effect of tiny diamonds shining in the open fields.  This particular field had the irrigation wheels lined up.  The wheels were covered with frost and sparkled in the beautiful sunshine.  I was just starting to appreciate my surroundings when a sudden movement caught my attention.  In the field there were between 50 and 70 elk.  Some were bedded down and some were standing.  They were soaking up the winter sun and it appeared they were not only appreciative of the beautiful day, but also their surroundings. 

     In a split second decision, I decided to take 15 minutes to live in the “now”.  I sat on the side of the road and soaked up the sunshine and the beauty.  The elk were oblivious to my presence.  I watched them dig for leftover wheat beneath the snow.   The twinkling of the frost immediately brought a touch of magic to my day.  The sight of their breath in the cold air made me breathe a relaxed sigh of my own.  I could feel the stress leaving my body and being replaced with hope and faith that I could handle my busy day. 

     When looking at these beautiful animals against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains, one word came to mind… majestic.  I have heard the word used many times, but never really experienced the true meaning of it.  Wow!

     The first thought that came to mind was... Thank you, Lord.  Thank you for helping me realize the importance of living in the present.  Thank you for the gentle reminder that not all things are measured by checks on a to-do list.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take a deep breath and relax.  Thank you for recharging my soul.  Thank you for always knowing what I need. 

     That image has followed me around for weeks.  Any time I feel overwhelmed, I find a quiet spot, close my eyes, take a deep breath and revisit “my” elk.  I need it.  My soul needs it.  

     May this Valentine’s Day give you plenty of opportunities to show the special people in your life how much you love them.  May you also be presented with numerous opportunities to live in the “now”.  Don’t let life pass you by… take an active part in it. 

 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Montana Woman Magazine - February 2011


The February issue of Montana Woman Magazine is on stands now!  I cannot wait for you to be "introduced" to cover girl - Julie Berquist.  She is an amazing woman!  Let me know what you think!

Monday, January 24, 2011







Bits and Pieces

 

LET YOUR SENSES BE YOUR GUIDE ON

A REAL ESTATE FANTASY TOUR…

 

FOLLOW ME…

 

by Chris Noel/Broker

NoDoubt Land Company, Kalispell

 

Upon arriving at the entrance to this unique 20 ACRE property located only six miles from town, I ask that you allow me to blindfold you until we have completed our tour.  I would like for you to “experience” the property from your soul first, but promise to re-trace our steps for a final “visual” tour before I take you back to reality.

     Thank you for your trust; just take my hand and let’s begin your sensual real estate showing.  Begin by clearing your mind and focusing on your sense of smell along with the gift of hearing.  Before we are through, you will be allowed to add the visual perspective, but for now concentrate on what you feel and hear.

     A soft breeze is stirring the branches of the aspen and evergreen trees, leaves are rustling across the field… the gurgling sound of a creek running under our feet as our boots make a thumping sound crossing the “foot” bridge leading to the paddocks and pastures.  The distinct snort and whistle of a white tail deer family we have startled in their trespassing into the alfalfa stack, the cry of a hawk soaring overhead followed by welcoming knickers from the equine residents who are lucky enough to live here.  Wait!  I see the hair standing up on the back of your neck in alarm wondering what that sound is coming from the brush behind us!  Relax; it is only the hens, scratching away in the brush in search of “chicken delicacies”, all the better for laying organic eggs for breakfast.

     Do you hear the horses munching their hay?  Can you feel their soft warm muzzles nudging your hand looking for a treat or simply trying to get to know you?  Or perhaps their thundering hooves as they take flight in play or fighting for position in the pecking order all animals exhibit?  Run your hands along the rail fencing and imagine what the view is like.

     Judging from the smile on your face, I can see that you are enjoying this unorthodox property showing technique.  You have done so well that I am now going to remove your “blinders” and take you through the ranch house.

     Notice the wood flooring, cozy wood stove, 2 bedrooms (one an enormous master), 2 bathrooms (one with a Jacuzzi Tub), kitchen and combination living/dining area on the main level.  A great addition is the covered deck providing dynamite views of the property and Glacier Park while allowing year round use!  A cool place on hot summer days, or a welcome haven on rainy nights… it is a natural entertainment area.

     The lower level has a second kitchen, 2 more bedrooms, a third bath, a second laundry area and a separate entrance.  The floor plan allows for a great single family residence or opens up the possibility of other uses:  mother-in-aw quarters, rental, caretaker, guests or??

 

     Granted, this is the ultimate equestrian dream property with an indoor arena, stable, round pen, paddocks, shelters, hay barns and pastures.  Since there are no zoning restrictions, it works well for professionals involved in the horse world (income from boarding, training, breeders) or for private use.  Any type of livestock would thrive here from a herd to family 4H Animals.

     But what if you don’t like horses or animals?  Perhaps you are simply craving a private country retreat but need to be close to town.  REMEMBER the timeless phrase when investing in real estate… LOCATION!  LOCATION!  This could be the perfect solution to your search!  The outbuildings could be used for other ideas…  The arena could double as recreational space for various sports, park your classic car collection out of the weather, or any type of equipment!  Convert the building for your business… let your imagination run wild!

     Reluctantly, we must return to reality now.  Thank you for your time and don’t hesitate to bombard me with questions, schedule a second tour or to make an offer on this intriguing paradise.

     Proudly Offered by CHRIS NOEL, NODOUBT LAND COMPANY, Kalispell, Montana *$699,900 with a $25,000 Buyer Bonus upon receipt of an acceptable offer by April 1, 2011.* 

     Interested in a re-cap?  Please go to my website at www.theresnodoubt.com  Check out MLS#296855 to view photos and details.

 

     WHO SHOULD YOU CALL FOR ALL YOUR REAL ESTATE NEEDS?  THERE IS NODOUBT! 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Montana Woman - Gretchen Finch










Focal Point - Gretchen Finch 

by Eleanor Maier

 

Gretchen Finch emanates a warmth that makes you feel at ease, instantly.  Her knowing eyes and big smile are wrought with a connection to God that is palpable.  “God is first in my life, oh, and my family too, of course!” exclaims Gretchen, when asked what is most important to her.  We take a pause.  My eyes wander over her numerous watercolors that hang on every wall.  Gretchen is, without doubt, immersed in her passion—painting. 

     Besides Gretchen’s devotion to God and her family, she has three specific areas on which her life is focused.  First is the Christian Fellowship, which meets at noon, weekly, in her home.  There is never an agenda, just women getting together, sharing, studying the Bible and meeting in the Lord, over homemade soup and bread: nourishment for the body and soul.  Her second main focus is her love of painting.  “I try to be a painter, and maybe if I keep going and paint until I’m 90, I might become a real artist!”  We laugh because Gretchen will turn 80 by the time this story goes to print.  Thirdly, Gretchen’s heart is centered on Owen, her Welsh corgi.  Owen is trained in agility, and is also a therapy dog at the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls.  “He’s kinda the worst dog and I’m the worst at handling him, but he’s the cutest, that’s for sure!”  Owen delights in sitting on my feet for the majority of our interview…

     Gretchen is a self-taught artist who has taken a workshop here and there.  Her advice to those who have a desire to paint is to, “try it—you won’t know till you try.  The main thing in art is to paint what you know, and paint what you love.  You need to care about your subject.  How you ‘see’ is more important than how you paint.”  Using photos as reference rather than to copy, Gretchen cuts and crops images from various places she has visited—a Wyoming sky blankets a Montana cattle ranch, creating a seamless scene, full of life and character. 

     The love Gretchen has for the West stemmed from her time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she and her husband, Pete Finch, owned a dude ranch.  Pete, who passed away in 1990, was a constant source of encouragement for Gretchen.  For over a quarter of a century, Gretchen would sketch a favorite snowy landscape and Pete would write a poem to describe it.  They would send these images off as greeting cards to family and friends letting them know all was well on the ranch.  These illustrations and rhymes have been compiled in the book Whiter than Snow.  This compilation follows Pete’s revelations and realizations—from non-believer to knowing the Lord in his heart.  Gretchen’s endless prayers were heard and Pete became quiet enough to hear God whisper in his ear.  Pete’s poem “Alone?” (p. 14) expresses the start of his awakening to God and connection to Jesus. 

 

Alone?

(1971)

 

The purity of

Untracked snow.

The grandeur of

Laden-boughed pines.

Pure-blue sky,

A man alone.

 

We, each

In our own way

Move through

This stillness.

Making our mark.

 

A wake,

A turbulence,

A peaceful wavelet.

Making our mark.

 

Climbing, achieving,

Seemingly alone.

Making our mark.

 

Are we alone?

Is there Someone

Watching?

 

Where came the

Untracked snow.

Where came the

Heavy-laden pines

And virginal sky?

 

Why turn the trail

This way

And that or

Climb the hillocks

Rather than descend?

Are we alone?

 

Christmas is a

Day for reflection,

For revelation,

For understanding.

 

Christmas is a

Life-time long

As is His presence.

 

He has created

The snow, pines,

And sky.

The hillocks

To be climbed.

The turns of the trail.

 

He is there

To guide

To ease the climb.

Seek Him

And be not alone.

 

     More information about Gretchen Finch can be found on her website www.gretchenfinch.com.  Gift certificates for portraits of loved ones and pets are available upon request.  Give the gift of memories that last forever.